Soo, after I’ve been dutifully crying into my breakfast yesterday morning over the finale of Ashes to Ashes, now on to something a bit more cheerful — if equally chilling. “Onward and Downwards” is the motto of this two-parter; or at least it would be, if Downstairs hadn’t decided to change the beat a little. They’re coming Upwards, and they’re all set to incinerate the human race.
The exposition part of the episode shows us a lovely country side, a lovely family, at least half-lovely scientists just having hit a new target: 21km beneath the Earth’s surface. Mo, father and husband of the aforementioned lovely family, is working the night shift when suddenly everything starts to shake and rumble and become generally spooky since the security cameras crap out. Mo goes to have a look — and finds a whole in the ground that has no business being there. He takes a closer look — and gets taken by whatever it is that lurks underneath the soil. Kids, lesson 1: Don’t stick your arm into a patch of slightly swampy soil that’s just swallowed your flashlight without so much as a burp.
Cue the opening credits, cue the first appearance of the Doctor and Domesticity — “Behold: RIO!” Well, it’s not Rio. It’s a Welsh graveyard, a bit lacking in “sunshine carnival vibe”, there’s patches of bluegrass that shouldn’t be there, and the ground feels strange (only for the Doctor, though). And Amy’s dressed for Rio. I thought, They’re really taking every excuse to keep the short skirts coming, aren’t they? Anyway, the Doctor spots the big mining thing and decides they’re going to have a look — Rio doesn’t have a big mining thing, after all.
Amy: We’re not gonna have a look, are we? — The Doctor: Let’s go… and have a look.
After a bit of “sonicing and entering” by Amy and the Doctor, and Rory getting mistaken for CID (Ashes just wouldn’t let me out of its clutches yesterday), we know that, again, we have a deadline: 12 minutes until it’s “Nom nom nom” for Mummy Earth.
In almost every episode so far, we’ve had a definite deadline spelt out for everyone’s convenience:
- 20 minutes in The Eleventh Hour
- the Oblivion Continuum’s loading circuit in Victory of the Daleks (I don’t remember how long they had but I think the Dalek gave an estimation how long it’d take)
- 10 minutes in The Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone
- 40 minutes in Amy’s Choice
Of course, when the situation comes to a head, it’s always a close call in Doctor Who; but some episodes in the previous series had at least a good night’s sleep built in, drawing the plot out over two days. So, apart from technically covering 14 years of Amy’s life in The Eleventh Hour, series 5 hasn’t done that once so far. In this episode, the Doctor reiterates something he’s been saying every other day since Flesh and Stone:
We’re running out of time.
Time’s been running out for quite a while now. And what with Amy being taken and about to be dissected, the kid, Elliot, (and old dead what’s-her-face in a coffin) still missing, Ambrose’ father being affected by whatever the tongue-bite did to him, Ambrose herself being the most antagonistic toward the Doctor and his methods (I almost wanted to set up a betting pool with my parents on whether she’d be the one Alaya was trying to goad, and however successfully).. that’ll be a lot to tie up.
As with every two-parter, there’s not much more than random stuff floating through my head since we’re lacking a bit of information to really piece the episode arc together; but the episode has left me with more than the usual issues about the how and the what of the actual Villain of the Week. The writing is, in general, not bad, there are funny and clever lines (the possibly cleverest line that’s not owned by the Doctor, however, comes from Arthur Conan Doyle: “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains — however improbable — must be the truth.”); and I’m usually more than ready to go easy on any episode that has moments of wit or funny gadget ideas — the heat image sun glasses! *snort* — I can enjoy myself with and forgive the occasional weakness. But I’m a bit at odds with this one.
- Rory gets out of a POLICE PUBLIC CALL BOX that hasn’t been around since the 60s, and Ambrose just immediately believes he’s CID, without questioning how that thing got there? Transport, anyone? Fine, Amelia simply concluded that the Doctor somehow got there to fix the crack in her wall, but a 30-something-year-old woman? As antagonistic as she is towards the Doctor, she’s got no problem not questioning a strange blue box and an alleged police officer who’s just stammering along? Unless that’s just a dig at people blindly accepting authority as long as it’s wearing uniform, I’m not buying it. Heck, I’m not buying it anyway.
- What’s with the stuff about the empty grave? We already know the ground has a tendency to take people from the surface, so why this one? Just so they could give Rory something absurd to do and Elliot his Sherlock Holmes line to deliver? In the follow-up Confidential to this episode, they said that they had to get rid of 15 minutes of running time material — why did they leave this one in, but threw this one (via Blogtor Who) out? At least in there the Doctor said something relevant after last week’s Amy’s Choice and all the mumbo jumbo about competition and repressed attraction: That he “like[d] Rory a LOT.”
- Speaking of Rory: Amy and Rory, ten years later, standing on the opposite hill and waving? At least they had the good sense to stay a healthy distance away, otherwise direct contact could’ve been initiated by accident, calling down the Reapers. And I don’t want to see them ever again. But still, what’s the point of that? Another the-Pandorica-has-opened-let’s-go-back-on-our-timelines-and-screw-with-our-own-minds-a-bit thingy? Or is it really just sentimentality and nostalgia? But then why that moment. To celebrate that Rory rescued Amy’s engagement ring from earth-y destruction? Well, I do have a feeling the ring in that exact position on the TARDIS controls will not be without consequences…
- The pep talk/trust-me-speech the Doctor gives before he leaves (the third one up to that point!)… seemed too much. Like someone trying to cheer someone else on almost against their own better judgement, getting tangled up in their own little speech. It just seemed overloaded while, in fact, trying to be simple, but intense and to the point at the same time. And the clapping? Yes, exactly. Embarrassing. This is not a soccer game!
- People are a bit slow in noticing that their loved ones are suddenly missing. Rory needs a long while to ask, Where’s Amy?, and Ambrose takes even longer to realize her son isn’t with the adults anymore. Erm. And that’s a thing, too: After showing off, again, that the Doctor has a great way with children this time around — he just lets the kid wander off outside? Even if that was played in order to emphasize the occasional stint of thoughtlessness the Doctor exhibits and ram home the guilt and self-loathing he feels for himself after letting people down, it’s too crass and too out of character for him not to mind the immediate danger. The Eleventh Doctor’s been shown to be very single-minded (in The Beast Below, for instance), but this bad? He’s flawed alright, but an idiot? I feel like this has just been planted so he’s going to be driven not only by guilt, but shame to go down to the Silurians himself, willing to sacrifice himself — but hasn’t the Dream Lord dipped into the Doctor’s inner well of shame and self-accusation enough already?
Alaya: The fire of war is already lit. A massacre is due! […] I’ll gladly die for my cause — what’d you sacrifice for yours?
Wow, talk about “cold blood.” Her words to her three “captors” were reminiscent of Nine’s statement in Dalek:
[…] and every stinkin’ ape shall be wiped from the surface of my beloved planet!
But not only does Alaya, one of the Silurian warriors, taunt the Doctor with his old issue of sacrificing and/or losing others and running from it without ever looking back, she also tries the old interrogation defence:
Alaya: I am the last of my species! — The Doctor: No, you’re really not. Because I’m the last of my species, and I know how that sits in a heart. So don’t insult me.
For the first time since the TARDIS’ reconstruction, though, we see Eleven openly marveling at something he encounters in his adventures: when he takes off Alaya’s mask, he exclaims “You are beautiful!” in full Tenth Doctor style.
There’s been a bit of talk about the new look of the Silurians (looky here for the vintage ones), and the writer, Chris Chibnall, responded to it as follows:
“[The new Silurians] don’t negate the original Silurians, they’re a different exploration of the same idea. They’re close cousins.” (DW Magazine, via Blogtor Who)
As many issues I might have with the writing and/or plotting of this episode, I certainly don’t have any with two things: The acting and the underlying music score by Murray Gold.
Matt Smith clearly has found his inner Gallifreyan and continues to kick ass. And again, there’s a dig at the complaints about his age: when he compliments Tony for his work with a slightly condescending “Good lad!”, Tony and Nasreen look at each other as if silently saying ‘That young bugger, who does he think he is with that face?’ Well, for one thing, he’s 907 years old and bloody brilliant, so he has every right to clap your back for doing something right for once after not noticing what damage you were doing with your drilling.
Karen Gillan didn’t have that much screen time in this first part, but delivered usual quality, and Arthur Darvill was enjoyably confused — and confident in the Doctor, if angry. The scene in which Rory eventually notices that Amy’s missing and the Doctor promises he’ll get her back, he does yell at him, but is smart enough to realize the Doctor’s the only one who can make sense of it all. And if there’s a chance that he’ll get her back, he’ll use it — because he’s usually the only one who knows how.
In that scene, we also hear what I believe is the new “Doctor’s Theme” — not quite as haunting as the one we heard parts of throughout series 1-3 (or the rather dramatic extension of it in series 4), but impressive nonetheless. Or, if it is, in fact, Amy’s Theme, then, well: just as wonderful and equally fitting. Also, there’s the new adventure theme spiking up whenever things get exciting: minutes 20 through 23, and at the end of the Doctor’s interrogation of Alaya. Both are absolutely marvelous and gripping, I think, and suit the Eleventh Doctor very well.
Of all the guest stars, I liked Meera Syal the best, I think. Her character was certainly attracted by the Doctor’s intellectual genius bordering on madness (or is it the other way around, I can never decide…), and when she snapped him with his own braces to get him to focus, I first laughed very loudly and then felt reminded of River Song’s own playfulness. It seems that the Doctor and female scientists get along especially well with each other lately, eh?
Random thoughts, aka the funniest lines (it’s a short list today — the dialogue just didn’t sparkle as much as it did in the last few episodes):
The Doctor’s chewing on bluegrass, spitting it out immediately and pulling a face; Amy: Have you always been this disgusting?! — The Doctor: No, that’s… recent.
The Doctor after having overpowered Alaya with Rory’s help: Saving the planet with Meals on Wheels! *high-fivus interruptus*
The Doctor: It’s dangerous! — Nasreen: Weeell, so’s crossing the road.
Nasreen: One.. small.. tribe? — The Doctor: Ah. Maybe more than a dozen. More like an entire civilization living beneath the earth.
Oh, and there are two “hidden agendas” stowed away in this one — a), dyslexia, and b), people-beyond-50-having-a-sex-life: Tony and Nasreen’s before-we-die-let’s-be-honest-with-each-other snog. I do not know much about dyslexia, so I cannot tell in how far the Doctor was supportive or whether the episode’s tone is more likely to be perceived as patronizing.
Next episode: Cold Blood. What’s to expect?
- Again, the Doctor points out that there are “opportunit[ies]”, that there are un-fixed points in time, which can be rewritten, as we well know.
- a lot of desperate yelling for respective spouses and/or companions
- the warrior class gets awakened
- the Doctor’s going to get strapped down and tortured a bit and actually scream in agony